What if writing a poetry journal was your path to self-love?

Happy National Poetry Month! April is a time to praise and honor the world and our place in it through poetry. As miraculous as reading poetry, I’m here to make a bold suggestion: together we should write one poem a day for the next 20 days of April. It’s a gift to write every day, a sort of harnessing the world. A treasure to cling to, a balm and a blessing for every moment.

As an artist in public schools for the past two decades, I have worked with students of all ages to create poems about identity, home, community, politics, love, grief of love, friendship, the changing world and most importantly, how to exist and become your true self. I have had the chance to see young people come to their own artistic and emotional discoveries, and I am delighted to share this process with you all.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no wrong way to write a poem.

No matter where you are in your creative life, and whether you’ve never written a poem before or the last poem you wrote was in elementary school, all are welcome! As far as I’m concerned, there’s no wrong way to write a poem. This month, there are no rules. You don’t have to feel confined or boxed in. This is a journey to find out what’s in your heart or what keeps you up at night or what excites you with each new day. Poetry can accompany your journaling or meditation practice. Think of poetry as a photograph of a moment or as a distillation of language in its purest form. Choose your favorite words and the most succinct ways to say them. What do you want to highlight in your life? What topics or themes keep resonating with you?

Don’t be afraid to start by writing down what comes to mind or making lists. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. Don’t worry about saying too much or not saying enough. Just let the words flow. Let them arrive on the page however they want. Don’t let the editor in! Turn off the part of your brain that tells you it’s not good enough, smart enough, savvy enough. You are sufficient, both in the world and on the page.

Set aside time each day to feel comfortable with your thoughts, to discover something new within yourself, to reflect on the world and your place in it. We start today, April 7th, so you will receive 21 invites for the next 21 days of April. The first seven are below; looking for a new job next week. Don’t worry, I’m writing right next to you. We are in the same boat.

Prompts #1-7

Prompt #1: Original Poem

Consider your origins. Who are your people? Where do they come from? What history do they hold? Write a poem using three names of the people who raised you. Include foods, sayings, and stories that make you who you are. What recipes and stories appear in your poem? What songs, TV shows, stories or events should be included? Be inspired by: Kelly Norman Ellis.

If you need a boost, try one of these lines:

My people…

We wake up…

I just…

My story begins…

My origins…

Prompt #2: Love Poem

Everyone who knows me knows that I love a love story and that I love to write and share moments of love. You could write a poem about or for someone. You could write a poem as a gift or as a parting gift. You could write a poem for a family member or someone who has passed away to honor and remember them. Use this poet and poem as inspiration: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.

  • Love is a verb. What actions does it take or move? Love dances or twirls? Does it shake or cook? Does he like jumping rope or swinging high?
  • Write a list of people you love.
  • Write a list of words you like.
  • Write a list of experiences you like.
  • Begin your poem with the lines: My love…Love can…Love is…Our love…and include as many words or phrases as the prompt above.
poem 2 love poem ellen hagan

Prompt #3: Write your way home

Write about home or a homecoming. Originally from Kentucky, I always carry the hills and the bluegrass with me. The house is both beautiful and complicated for me. It’s not always easy to love where you’re from, but this poem will try. Honor the five senses. Tell me how it feels, smells, tastes, sounds, looks! Take inspiration from another Kentucky poet: Crystal Wilkinson.

poem a day by ellen hagen

Prompt #4: Community is a verb

I always say community as a verb, as in: How do you do the community? What does community with other people mean? Write about the community you come from or the one you hope to have in the future. How is community a verb for you? Is it about making a phone call or delivering a meal to a loved one? Is it sending a handwritten letter or celebrating a close friend’s success with cupcakes and coffee? Does he offer help or fellowship? Does he send a reading list or share a favorite book? Is it just to be silent and listen? Reflect and share all the best ways you are part of the community around the world. Be sure to include specific details, names, suggestions, ideas. We follow. Be inspired by: Safia Elhillo.

poem a day by ellen hagen

Prompt #5: Food

Write about a meal that stayed with you. Was it at the restaurant or at home? Did a family member do it? Was it a handed down recipe? Does it connect you to your ancestors? What was on your plate? Did you save the last perfect bite and savor it? Were you alone or with a crowd? Write down the details of this meal and share it with us. You might start with the following lines: The food I remember… The best meal of my life… My night starts with… Be inspired by: Jose Olivarez.

poem a day by ellen hagen

Prompt #6: Music

  • Make a list of songs you like and come back to them.
  • Write down all the images, ideas, conversations, and emotions that arise when you think of these songs.
  • Link them together. How does each song move? Imagine a timeline from one note to another? Link these songs to lyrics.
poem a day by ellen hagen

Prompt #7: Family

Family is everything and everything to me. It ignites poems of excitement and celebration and also poems full of complication, longing and sometimes heartbreak. They still exist in me. Today is the time to think about family and how it might appear in your poems. You could write about a family reunion or a time when you all got together. You could write a portrait of your mother, father, aunt, uncle or cousin. Find a way to paint their picture with words. You can focus on a memory or an actual photograph that captured the day. You can write down the conversation you had the last time you met or just jot down a list of words that come to mind when you think about it. Be inspired by: Parnesia Jones.

poem a day by ellen hagen

Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer and educator. She is the author of six books, including her current collection of poetry, Blossom fiascos, and his forthcoming Young Adult novel in verse, Don’t call me a hurricane, to be published in Bloomsbury in July. His work is in ESPN Magazine, She walks beautifullyand Sin of the South. She received a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry in 2020 and has received grants from the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. You can find more prompts at www.ellenhagan.com and follow her on social media @ellenhagan.

Don't call me a hurricane

Don’t call me a hurricane

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Scott R. Banks